Done with Dieting Episode #23: How many meals should I eat in a day?

Over the years, advice on the number of meals you should eat as well as when you should be eating them has changed.

  • 3 square meals
  • 6 small meals throughout the day
  • Intermittent fasting (IF)
  • One meal a day (OMAD)

And if you talk to anyone who has lost weight long term, I’m sure that you’ll find that the answers for what they do as far as their meals is as varied as their personalities.

One of the most popular questions I get after “What should I be eating?” Is “How many meals should I be eating per day?”

So, if this is a question that you’ve asked yourself, tune in to episode 23 of the Done with Dieting Podcast.

In the episode, I’ll outline the steps to take so that you can tune in to the number of meals that are right for you and your body.

Are you loving the podcast, but arent sure where to start? click here to get your copy of the Done with Dieting Podcast Roadmap Its a fantastic listening guide that pulls out the exact episodes that will get you moving towards optimal health.

If you want to take the work we’re doing here on the podcast and go even deeper, you need to join the Feel Good Sisterhood - my group coaching program for women in midlife who are done with dieting, but still want to feel good! The Feel Good Sisterhood is open for enrollment, so click here to discover if group coaching is a right fit for you and your goals.

I am so excited to hear what you all think about the podcast – if you have any feedback, please let me know! You can leave me a rating and review in Apple Podcasts, which helps me create an excellent show and helps other women who want to get off the diet roller coaster find it, too.

What you’ll Learn from this Episode

  • How to figure out the number of meals you should be eating for your body and lifestyle.
  • How to avoid common pitfalls when learning how to listen to your hunger signals.
  • What the hunger scale is & how to use it.

Listen to the Full Episode:

Full Episode Transcript:

You are listening to the Done with Dieting Podcast Episode number 23.

Hi, I’m Elizabeth Sherman, former corporate high tech executive turn life and weight loss coach. But it wasn’t that long ago that I was searching for that perfect diet, the one that would finally be the golden ticket to lose the weight that I so desired.

Fast forward past tons of failed diet attempts, exercise fads and painful lessons learned, and although I still have not reached the state of Nirvana, body love, my relationship with food exercise in my body is infinitely better than it was not only when I started this journey, but even as recently as three years ago.

The journey that has allowed me to ditch my scale, stop logging my food and exercise, eat food that I did not prepare and easily maintain my weight – something that I never thought was possible for me.

I created the Done with Dieting podcast to give you simple, easy to do and sustainable strategies to help you do the same without all of the drama that I went through.

If you are a woman who’s looking to create a better relationship with food and her body, get off the diet roller coaster and free up a bunch of headspace spent on calories, how you should look what you should eat and beating yourself up for not doing what you think you should be doing. You are in the right place.

Let’s get started.

Hello everyone and welcome to the show.

Now, before we get started, I just wanted to let you know something that I am super excited about because I have been working super hard and thinking about and creating a brand-new program. I’ve been listening to you, and I’ve been hearing what you all need in order to become healthier.

For those of you who feel like you need more support and want to go on this journey with a small group of women. Starting in mid-July, I am going to be launching my very first small group coaching program for women in mid-life who want to lose weight but want to do it in a small group format.

The program is going to start August 2nd and it will run through January of 2022. I haven’t published a lot of details yet, but if you want to get on the waiting list so that you are notified when it’s available, you can go to that’s just one word group coaching, and you can get on the wait list there or go to the full show notes, and there’ll be a link for you to go put your name in and get all of the details, okay?

Okay. Now, let’s get started with our topic for today. So, I am recording this podcast in mid-May, and if you follow me on social media this week, I’ve been posting lots of photos of what I eat on Instagram stories.

And what’s funny about this is that I really don’t usually post a lot about what I eat. And the reason why I don’t do that is because I don’t really feel like it’s super relevant to my client success because I don’t want anyone thinking that I have the answers for them. And I don’t want anyone to think that they have to eat like me in order to achieve success, because you don’t.

But anyway, so recently I posted something about what I eat and how I eat, and you don’t want to eat what I eat because, well, one, you might not like it, but two, our bodies are totally different. And so therefore everyone needs to eat something a little bit different.

And this is how I work with my clients. I help them figure out what’s right for them. And so, what was really interesting was that I had a bunch of people reach out to me saying, “Hey, I want to know what you eat,” I would love to know that. And so, I was really reluctant to do it because, well, first of all, I don’t want anyone to think that the way that I eat is the right way.

And when we start to mimic someone else’s eating habits, that’s essentially a diet. We don’t necessarily know that that’s the right way for us. And plus, the way that I eat is actually pretty boring. I eat the same thing for lunch, pretty much every single day. And my dinners, although they have a ton of variety in them, they’re pretty much just protein and vegetables with a little bit of starch thrown in.

And so, anyway, the whole idea of what I’m eating was really the spark for this podcast episode, because so many people ask me how they should be eating, which totally makes sense, right? They come to me because I’m a nutritionist. And of course, they’re going to ask me that. It’s one of the things that we really do want to consider when it comes to our meals, not just what’s in the meal, but also when we are eating.

And I’m not gonna lie, meal timing is totally important. We generally want to have about two hours or more in between when we eat our last meal of the day and when we go to bed. But as far as how many meals to eat during the day, the answer to that is a little bit fuzzier.

It’s one of the reasons why I don’t create meal plans for my clients. And I don’t believe that meal plans are an effective method of losing weight and keeping it off long-term. I really wished that there was a one size fits all approach, but there really isn’t. I want to teach you along with my clients, how to eat for life.

That’s one of my goals in this podcast. I want to teach you the skill of being able to manage your weight, not towards anyone else’s rules, but how to do it for your own body, how to figure out how your body wants to eat. And so that’s why it’s so important for us to start listening to our bodies and for us to figure out what it is that our body needs so that we can give it what it needs.

When we learned to tune in to what our body needs and we give our body what it needs, then we can feel good because that’s what it’s all about, right? We want to feel good, and we want to stop thinking so much about food. I mean, in truthfulness, we’re never going to be able to completely get away from that.

We’re always going to have to think about what to eat to some degree. But when we take away all of the judgment that we have about food, what we should or shouldn’t be eating, then we get to get rid of all of this clutter that’s in our heads about, is this good? Or is it bad? Is this going to cause me to gain weight? Will it help me to lose weight?

We all want to feel so much ease around food. And so, when we’re able to tune in to how food makes us feel, then we can automatically release all of those external rules that we have. So that’s why I wanted to talk today about how to figure this out for yourself.

And this process involves one of the most important tools when it comes to weight loss, learning how to eat just enough and the hunger scale. Now, nutritional advice over the years has changed so much. When I started my journey, the advice that was given then was to eat six small meals a day so that you could stoke your metabolism all day long. I just think about that, that’s just so funny.

The idea was that because we burn calories through the process of digestion, that we could burn more calories all day long if we kept eating. Now, I tried that, and it didn’t work for me, but there are lots of different eating protocols today. There’s eating six meals a day, like I just talked about, there’s the traditional method of eating three square meals, okay?

And there’s nothing wrong with that. I mean, people did that for years and years and years. Today we also have intermittent fasting. You can eat just two meals a day and then there are even some protocols where people eat only one meal.

The one thing that I can say for sure is calories in versus calories out matters. Eat more calories than you burn, and you are going to gain weight; eat fewer calories and ideally you will lose, okay? There’re some asterisks in there but eat the same number of calories that your body needs, and you’ll maintain.

So again, all of this is with a few little asterisks and footnotes. There’s some deviation in there, but for the most part, calories in versus calories out matters and how you spread that out through the course of the day doesn’t really matter a lot. But it may work differently for everyone’s different body type.

And so, going back to the main question, how many meals should we be eating in a day? I know that you’re going to be really upset with me for this answer, but I think it really depends on a couple of different things. It depends on how your body processes food.

So, in other words, how quickly you get full and how quickly you get hungry, you’ll also want to take into consideration your schedule, right? Like when is it convenient for you and when do you have time to eat?

And then the third thing to consider is how do you like to eat? I have clients who come to me all the time and they’d like to graze throughout the day, and that’s totally fine. I personally like to eat sizeable meals and that’s one of the main reasons why that whole six meals a day didn’t really work for me very much because when I was eating six small meals a day, I didn’t really feel like I was getting enough food at one meal.

So, in order to determine how many meals, you should be eating, I think those are some of the things that you need to consider. Like, what’s my schedule? When am I available to eat? When do I want to eat? Can I bring my lunch? Do I have to eat at a restaurant or a cafeteria? Do I want to eat with my friends or family? Do I want to eat with other people or alone? Which meals are important to me? Do I like breakfast food, and what is ultimately important?

And when you can start to think about what meals are important and why then that’s going to be a really good indicator of how you should be eating. So that’s the first thing, but then the second piece to that is really tuning into your body’s natural bio rhythms and hunger.

So, are you someone who isn’t really hungry in the morning and you’ve been choking down breakfast for the past 30 years because quote unquote, breakfast is the most important meal of the day, right? You’ve been taught that and so now you’re eating it, but it’s really not doing a lot for you, or maybe you prefer to graze all day long.

The way to figure this out is through starting to pay attention to how hunger feels in your body. So, the big question is how do I figure out how to eat for my own body and for my lifestyle? And it seems so stupid that we have to have this conversation, right? We have been socialized through diets to not pay attention to our own hunger signals, but so many of us are completely blind to what hunger feels like in our bodies.

So, the first thing that we need to do is start paying attention to our body’s hunger signals. And if you listened to episode number seven, which is called what’s it means to listen to your body? In that episode, I talk about doing what’s called a body scan.

And so, for the first week or so, I recommend that you do body scans. And what I want you to start noticing in these body scans is what hunger feels like in your body. It’s actually really kind of an interesting question, because what does hunger feel like in your body? I mean, we know when we’re hungry, right?

But how do we know when we’re hungry? What are the physical manifestations of hunger? And they’re really very varied from person to person. Some people feel lightheaded when they are hungry; some people get hangry, right? and some people lose focus or can’t concentrate while other people just feel lethargic. You might feel an emptiness in your stomach, or your stomach might start to make rumbling noises. You might even feel hunger pains, right?

So, within the first week, what I want you to start noticing is what hunger feels like for you or how your body feels in relation to hunger throughout the day. So, once you start to notice what your body feels like at the different stages of hunger and fullness, the next thing you want to do is mentally map that to the hunger scale.

So, let me talk about the hunger scale. The hunger scale is a tool that I use with my clients to help them gauge their hunger and satisfaction levels. I like to use a 20-point hunger scale, but if you go on the internet, you’ll find lots of different hunger scales.

And so, what I mean by a 20-point hunger scale is I’d like you to imagine a line or a continuum. Now on the far-left side, we have hungry, like really super the hungriest hungry you can be, a hundred percent hungry, okay? And a hundred percent hungry is a negative 10. Now in the middle of that line, we have zero, which is neutral.

And then on the far-right side of that line, we have 100% full and that’s the fullest fall that you could ever possibly be, okay? And that’s a positive 10. So now let’s talk about those extremes first. So, if you do a body scan right now and tune into your hunger, if you ate between one and four hours ago, you’re probably feeling pretty neutral right now, which means your neither hungry nor full, you just feel normal.

And that’s what we usually feel most of the time, right? And so that’s a zero. Now negative 10 or 100% hungry is thinking like, oh my God, I am so freaking hungry that seeing the person next to me, their head looks like a hamburger. I feel fate, or I feel weak. I just feel this pain in my stomach, and I just want to crawl and like have food given to me. I need to eat something now or I’m going to die, that’s a negative 10.

Most of us probably have never been there and we don’t ever want to go there. Now on the opposite side of the spectrum, we have the positive 10, the complete and utter fullness, positive 10 is feeling so incredibly full that it is so freaking uncomfortable. It’s so uncomfortable that you might even experience pain around your midsection.

And if you even need a sip of water, you feel like you are going to explode or you feel like you’re going to purge. It’s so incredibly uncomfortable and full. Now, most of us have probably experienced that once or twice in our lives, maybe more. We don’t want to get to that point either.

Now, what we want to do is we want our hunger levels to stay within the negative four to positive two spectrum. And I’ll explain that a little bit more in just a little bit, but again, the first steps that I want you to take and observing how your body feels, is observing the hunger scale, starting to notice how your body feels when you’re slightly hungry.

When you’re getting hungrier, when you’re past the point of where you know you should be eating and then when you’re really hungry, and then do the fullness side as well. How does neutral feel? How does it feel to be satisfied? Slightly full, a little overfull, and I’ll tell you that this skill is so super freaking important when it comes to managing your weight without needing to log your food or do anything like that.

Because I know that between the point of being satisfied and being full, I’ve logged it before, I can eat a number of calories in the hundreds, if not thousands. So really starting to get familiar with how your body feels when you were at different points in the hunger scale.

Now, once we start observing how our body feels at different points in the hunger scale, then the next step is to start eating when we are at a negative four, and then we stop eating when we’ve had just enough, when we’re at a positive two on the hunger scale. So, what that feels like is, I’m not hungry anymore. I know that I’m not fall, I could certainly eat more, but I know that if I don’t, that I’ll be okay.

Now you might be asking yourself well, okay, Elizabeth, but why are you suggesting that we start eating when we’re at a negative four, but we stop eating at a positive two. And I’m sure you’ve heard before that it takes about 20 minutes for our brain to realize that we’re full.

If we stop when we’re at a positive two, ideally in about 20 minutes, we’ll hit that positive four, because if we stop at a positive four, then probably what’s going to happen in 20 minutes is we’re going to feel overfull. Maybe a positive six or a positive eight, and that’s going to be uncomfortable. Now, although everyone is different, we want our meal intervals to be about four hours apart.

So, you want to eat enough so that you will be hungry in about four hours or your next mealtime. Now this is going to take some practice to figure out what that feels like. Before we move on, let’s go back to hunger.

I want to talk about what to expect when you’re getting in touch with letting yourself get hungry. We’ve been taught that we don’t want to get too hungry and that’s true. But I also want to offer that hunger is not an emergency. I recall when I started my journey, and the common advice was that we wanted to keep our metabolism stoked that it was also advised that we keep food with us at all times.

I would get on an airplane with enough food to feed the entire cabin. I’d have protein bars and nuts and granola and an apple and all really healthy stuff. But the flight was only about two to four hours. I did not need that much food with me. I was totally going to be okay. I just did not trust myself. I didn’t trust that I was going to be okay during that time.

The problem with allowing ourselves to get over hungry, isn’t about the hunger itself. The problem is that when we get overly hungry and we haven’t decided what we’re going to eat, we default to old patterns.

So as an aside, I highly recommend that you plan your meals. I’m not telling you that you have to prepare all your meals. But, if you know that you’re going to be hungry, deciding what you’re going to eat for your next meal. Well, in advance is going to save you a lot of problems. Now, I want to share something with you that I notice in myself and many of my clients notice as well.

That when we’re paying attention to our hunger signals, that our body will get hungry a few hours after we eat. But if we don’t eat that hunger will go away for a little bit. This first hunger signal is super important. It’s kind of like your body’s sending out a little sonar alarm or a warning sign that says, “Hey, we’re going to be hungry in about an hour.”

Now, if you’re wanting to lose weight, it’s important that you not eat at this first sign of hunger. If you do what you’re doing is you’re reinforcing your body’s habit of eating at the first signal of hunger. See, it’s easier for our bodies to process energy from the food that’s in our stomach rather than the fat that’s on our body.

But if you’re listening to this podcast, it’s probably because you want to lose weight. And if we want to lose weight, we need to teach our body to use our body fat as fuel versus the food that’s in our stomach is fuel, right? Now, the way to do that is by allowing ourselves to get just a little bit hungry.

Now that initial hunger signal is your body’s negative two signal, and then you’ll go back to neutral. But the next time you get hungry, it’ll probably be at a negative four. Now again, this isn’t generality, this is how some bodies work. Your body might be a little bit different, so you need to figure that out for yourself.

And so, we want to eat when we’re at that negative four. And again, I do not want you to ignore your hunger signal. The whole purpose here is for you to get in touch with your body and understand how it works, understand what hunger feels like for you, both true hunger and that little warning sign so that you can be better in touch with how your body likes to be fed.

And this is the way by knowing what your own hunger signals are, and that’s why it’s so important for that first week or so to figure out how hunger feels for you. Now, if you’re really dedicated to eating to the hunger signals and eating to your own body’s hunger, then you’ll take the time to figure this out.

Do a body scan several times per day, and really get to know how your body feels at different points within the hunger scale. Now, if you’re going to eat to the hunger scale, eating when you’re hungry and stopping when you’re satisfied, it’s going to be a game changer for you. I truly believe that if we pay attention to how food makes us feel; if we pay attention to the hunger scale; and if we eat when we’re hungry and stop when we’re satisfied, not one more fall, but when we’ve had just enough food, our bodies will right-size.

So, if you have weight to lose, you will lose it. And if you don’t have weight to lose you won’t. And what I mean by that is that we’re all genetically predetermined to carry a certain amount of fat on our bodies. And so, by eating to the hunger scale, our bodies will naturally go to the healthiest weight that is right for us.

The other thing that’s amazing about doing this is, I personally eat many of my meals out, and this was an intentional plan for my husband and I when we moved to Mexico. Now, instead of being overly concerned about the calorie content of the meals that I’m eating, that I’m not preparing by paying attention to the hunger scale, by paying attention to how my body feels, what has worked for me, and what I’ve taught my clients to do also is by paying attention to these signals our food actually tells us how much we should be eating.

When we eat foods that are high in fat for example, those foods are way more satisfying. And so as long as we’re not eating them quickly, and if we’re eating them slowly and with intention, then we will feel full on a smaller volume of food. And so that’s actually a really good tip. Let me talk about that for a second.

There are a couple of different reasons why we feel satisfied after we eat. The first is the weight of the food that’s in our stomach. So heavy foods will make us feel more satisfied. Rice cakes for example, don’t make us feel satisfied, right? So, foods that are higher in water content like vegetables, those make us feel more satisfied.

The second signal that our body looks for when feeling satisfied is the lining of our stomach gets stretched just a little bit. And when that happens again, the signals go to our brain telling us that we’ve had enough food. So, foods that are large and bulky tend to make us feel a little bit more satisfied.

So again, vegetables, but if you’ve ever eaten like two cups of vegetables without anything else, you know that you feel full, yet you don’t really feel satisfied. And there’s a difference when we feel satisfied and when we know that we’ve eaten enough food. Has that ever happened to you where you eat a bunch of vegetables and you’re full, yet you still want to keep eating?

That’s because generally we need some fat in our food as well. And so, when we have fat in our food, then we feel satisfied. So, there are enzymes that break that fat down, dietary fat. And then, the body sends the signals to our brain that not only are we fall, but we’re see shaded as well. And so do make sure that you’re not only eating enough food at each of your meals, but then also that the composition of your meals has some fat in it as well.

And again, the amount of fat that your body need is totally going to be different. I can’t give you a specific amount, but it’s going to be different for everyone. It’s something that you’re just going to have to pay attention to. So, some of you may need more carbohydrates in your system. Some may need more protein and that’s going to be something that you get to observe.

And you know, what was in my meal? How did it make me feel, okay? So that’s just a little bit of a tangent. I know I’ve been on a couple of them on this episode. Now in learning how to eat to your body’s hunger signals. There are a couple of things to watch out for. First, if you haven’t paid attention to your hunger signals before, and if you’ve never eaten to your hunger before, if you’ve only eaten to the clock or to a diet that has told you when to eat, then this may feel really uncomfortable for you.

And you’re probably going to make some mistakes because this is learning a new skill. And when we learn new skills, guess what happens, we fail. And so, what that might look like is a couple of different things. One is you may overeat, that’s okay. You’re learning have some compassion for yourself. And so, notice how much food you fed yourself and just try to cut back a little bit. And that’s actually another really good tip.

So, as you get better and better at your hunger signals and eating to your hunger signals, what I’m going to suggest is that you cut down the amount of food that’s on your plate by about 20%. And the reason why I say 20% is that that’s what the eye can’t see. The eye really can’t see 20% less food. It’s kind of like when you go into a restaurant, after you haven’t been there for a while and you’re like, “Hey, wait a minute, this portion used to be bigger, right? Or is it just me?” I don’t know, so it’s kind of doing the same thing to yourself.

So, cut back on the amount of food that you’re giving to yourself by about 20% and see, is that enough food? Now here’s something that’s really interesting that happened to me when I started doing this in my journey. So, first of all, I want you to be aware that when I started doing this myself, when I was learning how to eat to my body’s hunger signals, it probably took me a good 18 months before I really had a handle on it.

I don’t know, maybe I’m a slow learner. I have clients that have figured it out within a few months, and I have clients who it’s taken a little bit longer, but it took me a good 18 months to really feel confident that I didn’t need to be constantly paying attention and asking myself, where I was on the hunger scale mid meal?

I just naturally started checking in with myself. I didn’t really need to pay super close attention to how much I was plating myself and checking in with myself throughout the meal to see if I had enough. And in all honesty, I do occasionally still overeat, although that’s the exception and not the rule, where when I started out how overeating was normal behavior.

But the other thing that was so super surprising in my journey, was that I felt a ton of sadness in this process. It brought up just so much discomfort and emotion for me getting up from the dinner table and not being full, but rather being satisfied felt so awkward to me. It felt like, I don’t know, it just felt really uncomfortable. I can’t explain it.

And probably because overeating was such a familiar feeling that feeling satisfied and not over full just felt super uncomfortable to me. It felt unfamiliar and that unfamiliarity really brought out some sadness. It was like I was breaking up with food. We were changing our relationship. It was a relationship that I had gotten used to that I thought I loved, but really didn’t serve me.

And it really surprised me how emotional I got about not being able. And I say that with quotes around it, not being able to be full. But I want you to remember that this is your choice. And for me, it was more important for me to have a healthy relationship with food and be able to eat a normal amount.

And once I realized that I was consistently overeating, I wanted to change that. I didn’t want to keep overeating. It just wasn’t important to me anymore. And so, it’s going to take some time for you to figure out how to navigate this whole process. Like, what does satisfied feel like versus full?

Also, remember that when you get up from the dinner table and you feel satisfied and not full, like one of the thoughts that I had going around in my head was, what if I get hungry again? And I just want to suggest that if you get hungry again, within the four hours, you can totally eat again, it’s okay.

Now you might make some unintentional mistakes, meaning that you may let it go a little bit too far, or your schedule doesn’t align with your meals. And eventually what will happen is as you get more familiar with the hunger scale, let’s say that you go out to dinner with friends and you’re not really hungry, but you know that you’re not going to be able to eat for the next few hours. Maybe you’re going to a play or a movie.

So, in those cases, you’re going to do a little bit of preemptive eating, knowing that you’re not hungry right now, but if you skipped, that you’re going to be really super hungry later. So go ahead and eat, it’s totally okay.

So again, I want to invite you to be compassionate with yourself throughout this whole process. Yes, you are going to get over hungry and you’re going to make mistakes. And when we get over hungry, sometimes we overeat. But if you can pay attention to your hunger signals and also have a plan of what you’re going to eat, when you do get hungry, it’s all going to be okay. Get to know how hunger feels in your body.

And if you do a little bit of planning for your meals, those skills together are going to give you the results that you’re looking for. Eating to the hunger scale is a tool that is so crucial in this process. If you want to feel effortless around your food if you want to manage your weight without someone else telling you what to do without measuring weighing or logging your food. Then this is the process that you take to do that.

Paying attention to how you feel and how food makes you feel is the only way that you’re going to get there. That’s why learning how to decode your hunger signals and eating to the hunger scale is what I consider to be a foundational or cornerstone habit to your health.

It’s one of the first things that I teach my clients. It’s also going to be the thing that I teach my new group coaching program that I’m launching at the end of July. And so, if you’re interested in that, as I mentioned before, I’m going to invite you to visit, that’s all one word and get on my wait list for the group coaching program.

It’s my brand-new program and it’s going to start August 2nd and I’ll start accepting applications into the program the week of July 19th. So, if you’re interested in that, put your name on the wait list so that you can get notified when it opens up, because there’ll only be a limited number of seats available, okay?

Okay, have an amazing week everyone. I will see you next time. Bye. Bye.

Hey, thanks for listening.

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See you next week.

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